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Crisis: Halted STEM Growth due to ‘Desert Education’

Will the failure to provide our youth with adequate STEM resources leave man-kind with the next lost generation?
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/manrajmondair/" target="_self">Manraj Mondair</a>

Manraj Mondair

May 5, 2022
Tucked away in the shadows of major cities are smaller communities, home to children who are just as ambitious as their peers from well-known areas. But how much of a difference does living in a different region really make?

Growing up, we are surrounded by unique individuals who pursue various pathways based on their passions. Some go on to become millionaires, and some live paycheck-to-paycheck. Now, we have to examine where this imbalance truly originates from.

An instance of unequal distribution of opportunities is at Tombstone High School, according to U.S. News. This high school in Arizona is underperforming compared to a neighboring school, Buena High School. The reason for this? Schools with more financial backing are able to support their student’s academic growth, whereas more impoverished schools struggle to do so.

Although the teachers and administration at Tombstone High School are eager to expand their academic resources, it is out of their control because the fault does not lie with them. Factors such as student capabilities to perform at advanced levels as well as funding affect the possibility of having a resourceful future for Tombstone High School.

The academic excellence that results from specialized forms of education is evident. Buena High School was able to raise its test scores by 650%. Is this enough of a reason to prioritize our children’s education?

An article written by Chalkbeat lists many recent studies in the state of Texas that showcase how funding correlates to higher academic performance by students. One of these studies stated that raising the budget by just $600 per student not only boosted test scores, but also college enrollment rates by an increase of 5%.

Well, we might think that high school is only a minimalistic stage in the vast life of an individual, however, this causes more detriment than people believe. Starting with elementary schooling, we divert more from our peers as advanced placement is introduced. These placements set you on track for a radiant future as they will define your education in high school and then even what level of college you attend.

It is truly fascinating how this disproportion begins as early as infancy. The socioeconomic status that you were born into has the potential to define the course for the rest of your life. Many potential prodigies are being undertrained due to their inability to acquire opportunities that will test their true heights.

According to EducationWeek, surveys and reports made in Texas reveal the statistical difference between high poverty schools and financially stable schools. This financial disparity even trickles down to children at the fourth-grade level, as some are given hands-on laboratory activities while others are not. Fewer than half of all fourth-grade students in schools with a poverty rate of 75% or higher have access to kinesthetic learning.

Well, how might this matter for the educational future of these students?

As years go by, undergraduate schools are expecting the most from the students that they want to admit. They hope that their admitted class went above and beyond in their high school years, but there is a clear, unequal playing field.

Seventeen-year-old Sanjam Mondair, from Buchanan High School, emphasizes how there was an evident gap between opportunities given as well as opportunity costs when connecting with other admitted students at her future university.

“I was able to meet many people from around the world who were admitted to the University of California, Santa Cruz,” Mondair said. “As I got the chance to talk to more and more individuals, I started noticing the lack of experiences that were available to me during my four years in Clovis.”

Mondair went on to express how high schools in well-funded areas, like the bay area and Silicon Valley, were given chances never seen before. Administrations implemented in-depth specialized research studies into their curriculum so students would not have to travel far to obtain this experience.

“Never in my life have I heard about opportunities where high school students are able to research artificial intelligence in computer science labs, or even research new methods to cure diseases such as cancer,” Mondair said.

Even though Buchanan High School offers advanced placement courses for a variety of different subjects, there are still limitations to what they offer. Surprisingly, however, students and parents in the Clovis Unified School District emphasize how Buchanan High School is known as a “privileged school,” compared to other secondary schools in the area.

All in all, STEM-based education teaches children more than science and mathematics concepts. The central focus on hands-on learning and activities sparks creativity in students. The extensive skills that are earned through this form of education are not available elsewhere. Solutions must be made to revive STEM in small communities, but where do we start?

Luckily, an extensive report made by Change the Equation shows us ways we can get STEM off the ground in low-income areas.

Well to start off, a curriculum or set agenda for a classroom is nothing without a teacher to guide the education of the students. Providing STEM specialized training for teachers is a great way to improve this poor, desert education. With this base knowledge of contemporary information, teachers will be able to expand their current teaching schedules to fit in hands-on labs and projects that will grow students’ knowledge capacity while having great amounts of fun.

Although it may be obvious, having more STEM equipment and supplies available to schools that need them most is crucial. Initiatives like ASSET STEM Education, Science in Motion and the Amgen Biotech Experience have supplied struggling schools with STEM education materials. They also have trained teachers on how to use those materials well, which ties in with the initial solution of educating the teachers and staff first.

Supporting high-poverty high schools by offering challenging STEM courses is a vital part of growing ground-level STEM proficiency in students. Initiatives like college readiness programs establish Advanced Placement courses in high schools and then give students, teachers and other staff the support they need to meet the rigorous demands of these courses.

These next-level courses give ambitious students a gist of what college learning might be like. This is an excellent opportunity to progress beyond grade-level education by earning college credits for taking undergraduate-level courses in high school.

As technology is advancing, why can’t our education flourish as well? Virtual reality is a common innovation that is talked about among many boards of school districts across the nation. This new form of virtual learning can make hands-on learning more accessible and cheaper. Although this method of education may be foreign to most high-poverty schools, it is something that is most definitely the future of all education.

The struggle to create equal STEM opportunities in schools is an ongoing one. Granted, this progression to a better tomorrow is unlikely to happen overnight.

But through efforts like reforming our current education programs, we can still keep the future of our children bright. If we don’t, the only individuals at fault are the people letting it happen before their eyes.

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